While he had been used off the bench in the McGrath Cup loss to Waterford and then in last week’s opening-round win over Dublin, the Nemo Rangers man’s pre-season has differed from other years, due to a combination of injury and travel. He admits his match-sharpness is still returning, but a trip to Australia and New Zealand was beneficial
“I got injured before the Skibb championship game with Nemo,” he says, “my groin was a bit sore going into that, it turned out I had a tear in it.
“I didn’t train at all before the Ballincollig game, obviously we lost that and before Christmas I wasn’t doing any football. When we went back in November I just did six weeks of straight-line running, that was all I could do.
“There were three or four of us who were injured doing that and then I went off for just over a month, the middle of December to the middle of January.
“The Waterford and Dublin games were my first in four months, I was fairly rusty.”
Travelling with his girlfriend Laura, Kerrigan saw most of New Zealand’s North Island before meeting up with Cork and Nemo team-mates in Australia.
“Laura has family in New Zealand, her sister lives there,” he says. “Then we went to Melbourne and stayed with Eoin Cotter, met Ciarán [Sheehan] and a few of the Nemo lads, David Kearney and Philip Hogan. Then [Daniel] Goulding was over, his first night was our last night, so we had a good get together. It was a good trip now. It used to be grand when we were getting to All-Ireland finals, you’d have a holiday every year! I feel more relaxed now, before I might have been worried about my fitness, whereas now I know I’ll get there. You have to see the world. I’ve been lucky to see most places, South America is the only place I haven’t been to yet.”
While Kerrigan and Goulding were abroad, Patrick Kelly was also taking an extended break from the Cork panel following Ballincollig’s extended season. Unsurprisingly, rumours of triple retirements spread like wildfire.
“Goulding said to me over and the boys were saying it when I got back,” Kerrigan says. “I had five weeks of training done before I left, Pa had a long season and an injury so he’s recovering, Goulding had a long season and a few niggles here and there. He wants to get his body right and he was going travelling too, he was in the dressing room after the match the last day. We’re only 28, Pa’s 29, we’re still young.”
Kerrigan was keeping fit while he was abroad, road-running in the mornings and getting to a gym when possible.
His first match back was that first Cork defeat to Waterford in 55 years, but he insists that there were no doomsday projections within the camp.
“We played very defensively against Waterford I thought, gearing towards the league, you saw that last Sunday,” he says.
“Waterford were quite good on the day, they showed that afterwards when they beat UCC and won their opening league game.
“If you sat back and thought about it, it’s a first loss to Waterford since 1960 and people might be saying, ‘Oh Jesus’, but we have to turn a few things around after last year.
“There was nobody getting too down about that game and nobody getting too excited either about beating Dublin.
“After the league last year, we are probably second-favourites for the All-Ireland. Now, after last year’s championship, we’re about fifth or sixth.
“We seem to go up and down in people’s estimations during the year, given how tough the league is, and that’ll probably continue.”
A negative public perception seems to be par for the course with the Cork footballers though.
“I’m used to it, I think maybe a lot of the new guys, and maybe even the management, have had to get used to it,” Kerrigan says.
“After the Munster final last year, I knew what was coming, so I kept the head down for a while.
“Even when we were successful, winning leagues and championships, we were still getting criticised. We had a tight group then and I think we’re trying to develop that now.
“Last year, we had up to 14 new fellas, a high turnover. We’re a lot more settled, on and off the field, and we got on pretty well.”
Monaghan will challenge that assessment, but with three more trips to Ulster to come, Kerrigan is hopeful that they can be put to good use.
“In 2010, we played a lot of the Ulster teams and those trips were good from a bonding point of view. They were like mini-weekends and they galvanised the team.
“That’s what we’re targeting again this year, I suppose for the newer fellas it might be an eye-opener. There’s always a good atmosphere and in-your-face football, it’s about trying to get across to the young fellas what’s coming. I actually look forward to the league, You can’t get enough games, for the amount of training we do.”